The ever-evolving Amelia Earhart mystery: A timeline
On July 2, 1937, famed aviator Amelia Earhart vanished over the South Pacific en route to one of the last stops on her historic flight around the equator. In the 75 years since, researchers have spent countless hours attempting to hunt down her remains and the wreck of her Lockheed Electra aircraft. This week, Ric Gillespie of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) said he and his colleagues have cracked the mysterious case, and will prove it this summer. His announcement, no trifling matter, took place at the State Department and headline speaker Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lent her weight to the event. Here, a look at some key moments in the decades-long search for Amelia Earhart:
June 1, 1937
Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, begin a projected 29,000-mile trip around the globe, taking off from Miami. Before leaving her next stop, Puerto Rico, Earhart says, "I have a feeling there is just about one more good flight left in my system and I hope this trip is it. Anyway, when I have finished this job, I mean to give up long-distance 'stunt' flying."
June 30, 1937
After 22,000 miles, Earhart and Noonan land in Lae, New Guinea. Their next leg is the longest and most dangerous of the trip, a 2,550-mile flight to tiny Howland Island.
July 2, 1937
Earhart and Noonan leave Lae. About 19 hours later, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, sent to Howland Island to help guide the flight, receives a transmission from Earhart: "KHAQQ to Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio." About an hour later, Earhart relays her rough coordinates to Itasca. Then silence. About two hours later, Coast Guard officials decide that Earhart ran out of gas and landed in the ocean. The search begins. President Roosevelt sends 10 naval ships, more than 60 aircraft, and some 3,000 people to hunt for Earhart, at an estimated cost of $4 million.
July 18, 1937
The U.S. calls off the search.
Gerard Gallagher, the British colonial administrator of Gardner Island, an uninhabited atoll now called Nikumaroro, south of Howland, recovers a partial human skeleton, a woman's shoe, and an empty sextant box at what appears to be a former castaway camp, complete with the remnants of a campfire and turtle, clam shell, and bird remains.
A British doctor in Fiji examines the bones and declares that they belonged to a 5-foot-6-inch white male. Later, two forensic anthropologists revisit the doctor's recorded measurements and determine that the bones belonged to an taller white female, like Earhart. The bones disappear in Fiji in 1941.
May 26, 1959
California resident Josephine Blanco Akiyama tells the San Mateo Times that as a child on the island of Saipan, she saw Japanese soldiers take Earhart into custody in July 1937, and learned later that they had executed Earhart. A similar conspiracy theory, which had circulated since 1942, posits that Earhart was captured by the Japanese in the Marshall Islands, possibly because she was a U.S. spy.
July 1, 1960
A CBS News team unveils a generator they brought back from Saipan, claiming it's from Earhart's airplane. CBS reporter Don Mozely says his team "found at least a dozen natives who remember seeing the famous aviatrix crash-land in the water in 1937, watched her taken to jail by the Japanese, and then disappear."
TIGHAR launches the the Earhart Project to conclusively solve the mystery of Earhart's disappearance, "according to accepted academic standards and using sound scientific methodology." They soon embrace the theory that Earhart landed on Nikumaroro and survived for a while after the crash.
Maryland-based deep-sea search outfit Nauticos does a sonar scan of the area off Howland Island where it believes Earhart crashed. Nauticos scans 630 square miles of ocean floor off Howland, then another big chunk in 2006, but finds nothing.
March 20, 2012
TIGHAR's Gillespie announces the Earhart Project's 10th expedition to Nikumaroro, bolstered by an enhanced (but still blurry) photo a British soldier took in October 1937, apparently showing a plane's landing gear sticking out of the water. This 10-day expedition in July will involve sonar and a robotic sea vehicle, and will boast Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard as an adviser. TIGHAR's nine previous trips to Nikumaroro have uncovered several artifacts they believe belonged to Earhart and Noonan, including makeup, paneling from an airplane, a possible finger bone fragment, and a metal map box and shoe parts that match up with items featured in photos of Earhart taken before her flight.
Sources: CBS, Centennial of Flight, Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Ellen's Place, Fox News, Globe & Mail, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Nauticos, NPR, Spokesman-Review, TIGHAR, Washington Post